ESSEX — Months after this town’s dispatch emergency services were transferred to the Essex County Regional Emergency Communications Center in June, operations on the whole are running smoothly, police Chief Peter Silva says, but some kinks still need to be worked out as others have been solved.
Essex began using the new regional center during the week of June 24, with Wenham going live with regional dispatching shortly after, and Essex public safety officials say that after initial technical problems, everything is going as planned.
Silva said that, just as with any other significant change, there have been some growing pains and learning curves, but “every week is an improvement.”
Silva said that contrary to what some may believe, the process is not as easy as flipping a big switch and seeing everything run as smoothly as planned. He noted, for example, that the recorder that takes incoming calls was not working correctly early on, while another issue has been occasional delays in letting town police obtain their own log information.
But, he said, dispatcher center employees have been very helpful in working out any glitches.
”Like with any new product, you’ll have some training issues and how to handle calls,” Silva said.
All things considered, the regional switch has been a hit for Essex.
“I can’t believe how good the radio comes in,” he said. “Times not long ago (pre-dispatch center), we had trouble reaching our own station.”
Silva said the equipment upgrades that have come through the switch to emergency dispatch — made available by the Essex County Sheriff’s office that runs the center — represent a dramatic improvement or the town in terms of record-keeping and how information is stored.
“It’s a tremendous change in how we have been doing business,” he said.
Essex fire Chief Daniel Doucette also said that, by and large, there have been no significant problems and that everything transitioned smoothly.
He said that working with the new system has been a learning process, but that everything is in working order, and the Fire Department is in the process of picking out new record-keeping software.
There are, however, lingering questions.
As it stands now, the regional center only fields calls by landlines. Massachusetts State Police handle any 911 cellphone calls within Essex. But the target date for regional dispatch employees to begin fielding cellphone calls is now just about a week away, according to Maurice Pratt, the assistant superintendent for the Essex County Sheriff’s Department.
Pratt said each dispatcher has extensive training — 240 hours total — and each new dispatcher is at first monitored by a more experienced one.
“It’s a very advanced system,” he said. “We’re very pleased about how it’s going.”
He cited a letter from Wenham police Chief Thomas Perkins that commended the regional dispatch center for its employees’ work and dedication. Pratt said the regional dispatchers field hundreds of calls from Wenham on a weekly basis.
Still, the center continues to serve only Essex, Wenham and Middleton. And while Pratt said Monday that Middleton remained online, calls to the Middleton police station on their non-emergency line Monday were fielded by Middleton police officers, not regional dispatchers who answer the non-emergency lines for Essex and Wenham.
Meanwhile, the center was to start serving Topsfield, along with Middleton, in “late summer,” officials had said earlier, while Amesbury and Beverly were to come aboard in the fall.
Neither Topsfield, Amesbury nor Beverly are using the regional center yet. And while Danvers officials are looking to replace that town’s outdated dispatch system, authorities there are looking into a plan to build a new town dispatch center by expanding the police stations, rather than looking to regionalize.
A number of communities — including Gloucester, Rockport and Manchester — decided against joining any regional center right from the start, amid questions over both the system’s functionality and cost.
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.